Marriage Rules: What Are The Rules & Can I Change Them?

Who Makes The Rules?

Like most young girls, I went through a Prince Charming phase.  I dreamed of the day some handsome, ruffle-shirted specimen that primps more than I do would swoop in on a unicorn and carry me away for a royal wedding.  I would rule my kingdom with a fair, but just hand (insert an eye twinkle and dimpled smile here).  Cute, right?  The candy-coated purity didn’t stay long.  It was swiftly ushered out by an overwhelming curiosity and deep-seated need to question everything.  My inquisitive and tenacious nature didn’t earn popularity points in a small town with the 7 to 10-year-old Prince Charmings.

I fully succumbed to teen-angst, shedding what remained of my sugar-coating in exchange for leather and shredded lace goth gear.  Draped in black and equipped with army boots and a bad attitude, my view of Prince Charming transformed.  I no longer wanted a rescuer, I wanted a partner in crime that could stimulate my mind.  He would be a drummer who would defy mainstream expectations, yet be eloquently spoken and intimidatingly intellectual.  A poet with unbridled passion, a philosopher with tremendous dimension, and a caveman with a savagely sophisticated rhythm that would make you want to bite something and dance.  We would have our own language, our own song (le sigh, teen dream).  I would be a backup singer and write the lyrics to his melody.  We would go on tour and taste life from the stage of an open relationship — remaining loyal to each other in our way.  Our lives would be spontaneous, and rebellious.  Metallica would play at our wedding.

By the time I hit college, I was the lead singer.  Experience taught me romantic relationships with drummers were better in daydreams than in reality.  In fact,  one of them damn near made me swear off men altogether.  I learned to live in the moment, for the moment and had no intention of marrying – like EVER.  I was comfortable with exploring both sexes and being unattainable.  It was fun, wild, and incredibly exhausting.  I made glorious mistakes and several costly ones as well.  During my senior year, I decided to slow down and date myself.  I highly recommend this to anyone.  Date yourself often and reflect on experiences to mentally check-in.

After college, much to my surprise, I felt I was ready to settle down and build a foundation in traditional marriage.  I traded unattainable for available and rebellious for conformity.  Mr. Right was now someone like-minded.  No prince, no drummer – just a guy in front of a girl that loved her.  Round and round it goes.

What Does Intimacy Look Like To You?

So, where am I going with this?  The point is that definitions of what kind of relationship we want will change over time.  I thought the definition would halt at marriage.  I thought ‘I’m getting married, I must be all grown up now – time to adult!’  Let me tell you, the definition most certainly DOES NOT stop changing.  Most people think they are done and can check that box after they hear:  

“I now pronounce you man and wife; you may now change your Facebook status.”


Nope.  Not even close.  DO NOT go on relationship autopilot.  Continuing to define intimacy boundaries and needs while married – now that’s where trust and communication are taken to new levels of challenge and reward.  Think about it.  If what we want changes over time, why would the traditional institution of marriage and the rules of monogamy feel natural to us?  The simple answer is:  It wouldn’t.  The reality is, what do you both need?  

In “The Myth of Monogamy,” a book by psychiatrist David P. Barash and Judith Eve Lipton, one of their most fundamental findings what that:

“[T]here is simply no question whether sexual desires for multiple partners is ‘natural.’ It is. Similarly, there is no question of monogamy being ‘natural.’ It isn’t.”

There will always be a sexual desire for multiple partners.  Women may naturally try to find that one mate a bit faster because they have a select number of eggs for offspring. So, there is a greater sense of urgency to select a mate than men have.  Men have an unlimited number of sperm, so their urge is to spread their seed in as many places as possible.  However, both men and women will have the sexual desire to roam.  These desires are snuffed out with traditional marriage, or at least dulled down, aren’t they?

No, marriage does not tone down fantasy or curiosity.  You know this as well as anyone.  You and your partner will define what intimacy looks like to you.  If you haven’t had conversations before marriage, you will need to start having them.  There is plenty of fun and exciting ways to open up communication on these topics and we will be addressing this in later blogs, or you can always contact us.  For now, think about what intimacy looks like to you?  Is it exchanging fantasies and making some into reality?  Is it bringing another couple into your bed?  Is it having a home base and open relationship?  Is it sex clubs?  Is it attempting to ignore discussions about each other’s sexual needs, wants, and desires?  If so, you need to rethink that and reach out to us for a second opinion.  The fact is, you will not have the same idea about marriage and relationships in 5 years that you hold now.  Intimacy levels and needs will change.  They will either grow, disengage, pause, or wander.  Have discussions with your partner on a regular basis about the rules of engagement for your relationship so they stay relevant and in tune with how you both feel.

The Big One: Social vs. Sexual Monogamy

You and your partner’s definition of marriage and rules of engagement can be different from other people’s. One of the first things that should be discussed is monogamy.  There is more than one kind of monogamy:

  • Social Monogamy:  Living the social norms of man & wife.  Same house, same bed, sexual relations – doing traditional marriage like a boss.  The one caveat – is you have flings and hook up with other people.  (The husband who has a one-nighter now and then but returns to his wife, always – or vice versa).
  • Sexual Monogamy: Mating only with ONE partner. 

Several species practice social monogamy ensuring survival by males spreading the seed and females sharing their eggs with the most robust specimens they find.  The majority of all species participate in extra-pair mating to ensure the strongest offspring.  They are socially monogamous, not sexually monogamous.  Out of 5,000 species of mammals studied, only 3-5% form lifelong bonds with one mate, such as:

  • Beavers
  • Some bats
  • Wolves; and
  • Foxes

And even these animals will have a fling with another mate if their current mate cannot perform sexually or produce offspring.  If we are talking strictly about what is natural for humans – the lean tips to the polygamous side.  Truth be told, humans are not in danger of going extinct – yet.  However, the odds of irreconcilable differences would be greatly reduced with excellent communication, trust, and intimacy level talks.  Sex is a primal instinct and primal instincts are the little devils on our shoulders.  The success of monogamy is acknowledging that it takes work.  Monogamy conflicts with primal instincts. 

Success with intimacy is the foundation of any good relationship.  I can’t say this enough.  And yes, it is as confrontational as it sounds.  This conflict of interest between primal instinct and monogamous bliss is why marriage is seen by some as a societal construct, not a natural one. For example, Professor Pepper Schwartz of Sociology at the University of Washington in Seattle stated:

“Monogamy is invented for order and investment – but not necessarily because it’s ‘natural.'”  

Let’s break that down.  We have established what we want in a relationship changes over time.  We know primal instincts make us tilt towards more than one partner.  So, how did we get to mainstream monogamy again?

The Evolution of Traditional Marriage

Game of Thrones or Tudors fans and of course, history buffs are well-aware that marriages were arranged to align kingdoms and ensure the continuation of pure, royal bloodlines.  Love had nothing to do with it.  Kings and Queens would have their playthings, mistresses, and concubines to love and practice the art of courting with.  However,  the responsibility of procreation was taken seriously and reserved for the Queen, on purpose anyway.

In early Venice, the City of Love, Courtesans were held in high esteem.  I’ve had fantasies of being a Courtesan based on the movie Dangerous Beauty (if you haven’t seen it, you are missing out).  Courtesans were intelligent, politically astute, clever women trained in the arts of pleasing a man.  Education and books were illegal to women, but not Courtesans.  Courtesans served as advisors and advocates.  Aristocratic men would often be in the company of a Courtesan without damaging their family name or dishonoring the vows to their wife by being with a woman of the lower class.  The Catalogue of the Principal and Most Honourable Courtesans of Venice would advertise Courtesans’ skills and specialties-and their prices.

Let’s kick it back even further.  In the ancient world, 80% of human societies were polygamous in one form or another.  Scholars believe that the human race lived in promiscuity among several tribes gathered together for strength, procreation, and protection.  The mention of marriage during the Rig Vedic period in India was the first mention of it religiously.  Hinduism is the oldest religion globally and defines marriage as a permanent, sacred, religious union to ensure the continuity of race through procreation and carry on cultural heritage. 

Although marriage is mentioned and defined, it does not state monogamy.  The Vedic literature is full of references to polygamy, especially among kings and nobles.

Pagans, Greeks, Romans, Babylonians, and several other cultures and countries practiced marriage, but their definition of marriage had some form of polygamy until about 1,000 years ago. 

Safety In Monogamy

There are theories as to why others joined the Roman Catholic and Protestant push to be monogamous:

  1. STDs:  More humans, more societies, and promiscuity was the perfect petri dish storm for STDs to run rampant.  According to a recent study at the University of Waterloo in Canada, demographic and disease data showed the prevalence of STDs historically across regions.  The spread of contagious diseases strongly influences the development of social norms.  We see the same thing in today’s climate with COVID.
  2. Parenting:  Rearing children takes a long time and is financially demanding.  It is easier when there is a committed partnership between husband and wife.  Fathers are involved and bonded with their children, which keeps monogamy appealing.  Humans have a greater paternal investment impulse.
  3. Maintain Wealth:  Keeping wealth within a family and creating generational wealth is easier if relationships are monogamous. Therefore, protecting financial wellness is a massive consideration in marriage.

Monogamy may have been the guiding principle for Western marriages between the 6th and 9th centuries, but the battle continued with the Catholic Church and nobility. As a result, men were given generous latitude for extramarital affairs well into the 19th century, while women risked severe consequences.

Marriage Equality

Once women could vote, the transformation in marriage started to happen.  Marriage equality wasn’t recognized till about 50 years ago.  Women could not open bank accounts independently, and a man could sue someone for injuring his wife because she couldn’t provide services around the home.  Marriages transformed into flexible divisions of labor and companionship.  Parenting partners and sexual attraction.  It has gone through more changes over the last 40 years than the previous 5,000.  

Still, 15% of married women and 25% of married men admittedly have extramarital affairs. However, researchers believe those percentages to be understated as it is not common for people to admit extramarital affairs unless they have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar.  To avoid the pain of extramarital affairs, some people have taken steps to redefine marriage.  Some have put an assortment of cookies in the jar with a proverbial cookbook on how to make them.  Me?  I am still putting my investment in communicating your intimacy level.  

NonTraditional Marriages

According to Jane Lancaster, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of New Mexico:

“The human species has evolved to make commitments between males and females in regards to raising their offspring, so this is a bond.  However that bond can fit into all kinds of marriage patterns – polygyny, single parenthood, monogamy.”

How I read that is: marriage is what you and your partner make of it.  You set the rules that you can abide by to make your marriage prosper and be the envy of your neighbors.  Or, you can make it as chaotic as you like and be coveted by reality tv.

Finding someone that is like-minded and on the same page as you with open lines of communication and reasonable, realistic expectations leads to a happy married life.  Don’t be afraid to get awkward and experiment. 

Be honest and receptive.  Keep the trust you earn and give the trust in return.  Marriage is not the cage, it’s the bird.  Intimacy would be the song.

Marriage has been a legally binding contract since ancient times.  The terms of that contract can be drawn up any way you both decide (and yes, it should be in writing to avoid confusion and revisited frequently).  Contracts are useful in all sorts of alternative relationships:  marriages, extended relationships outside marriages (thruples), extended BDSM relationships – yes,  several.

Contracts are a great way to keep things from getting messy.  Terms can be drawn up for a trial time to see how things fit before adding responsibilities, such as children, to the equation.  People enter marriage for different reasons besides love or fondness:

  • Companionship
  • Parenting
  • Safety
  • Financial Security
  • Security and Comfort

Other forms of marriage and permanent relationships that are sexuality-based and observed by 1 in 5 Americans:

Open Marriages: You have one spouse but have consensual sex outside the marriage and have an open line of communication about external affairs.  This type of marriage is for people that want stable marriage, but not a monogamous one.

Polyamory:  This means ‘many loves.’  You are essentially in love with more than one person simultaneously.  All partners know who you are in love with and who you have relationships with. Sex is not always a factor.  There is substantial trust and independent bonds between all participating partners.

Swinging:  Married couples who exchange sexual partners.  It’s like going to a party and auctioning off your husband or wife for the night to someone else while they do the same for you.  Sex is recreational and primarily disconnected from emotion until it isn’t.  Some move into polyamorous relationships, and some are good with the status quo.  These relationships require trust, honesty, and open communication.

The “I Want To Try Alternative Marriage” Conversation

If you think you are ready to have the conversation and are wondering how to break the seal, the answer is – that it depends on your relationship dynamic.  Generally, if you have healthy intimate conversations with your partner and open communication, you are in a good place.  Partners’ biggest concerns are usually the threat of loss.  Loss of the love, person, wealth, and lifestyle that they have become accustomed to.  Change is scary.  Small, introductory steps are often the best answer.  By small, I mean research.  Check out books, documentaries, YouTube, porn, situations, clubs, or something small but similar, and be prepared to have an open and honest discussion after.  A dear friend of mine had come on my Podcast and provided some insight on helpful documentaries in this genre:

Marriage By Design: Closing With Intimacy

In no way did I mention all of the possibilities, they are endless.  I don’t judge anyone for what they do or participate in; I know what’s for me and what’s not.  I will say this; love is nothing without intimacy.  Intimacy is defined in many different ways.  It is that one person you hold no secrets from, especially the darker things you aren’t proud of – and they love you.  Intimacy is being naked in front of your partner in thought and body, revealing all your broken pieces – and they don’t see anything that needs to be fixed or changed.   

Intimacy is surrendering to who you are rather than who you are in front of other people with your significant other.  Intimacy is reserved for your one person, and no one else gets to taste that most authentic piece of you.  Intimacy is the one thing I don’t have the words to explain because it’s grander than words and expressed in carnal knowledge, raw savagery, and gentleness beyond measure.  When it comes down to it, a marriage license doesn’t matter.  The deep connection established by building intimacy holds you true to your relationship.  How do you know you have it?  When you don’t need to ask that question.

At least, that is the way I see it. 


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